Ilion farm now licensed to sell raw milk

Ilion farm now licensed to sell raw milk

ILION – At Turner Farm in Ilion, producing milk isn’t a chore, but a labor of love.

“Cows are a very patient, peaceful, gentle animal,” said Ben Turner as he coaxed eight of his 24 dairy cows into position for milking. “They’re great to be around. This is the best part of my day.”

All Turner’s cows are grass-fed and artificial hormone and antibiotic free.

In June, Turner, whose dairy production has already been certified organic and grass-fed, became licensed by New York State to sell raw milk, a distinction held by very few farmers in Central New York.

The process began in February, when Turner stopped selling his milk to Maple Hill Creamery of Little Falls.

“They’re a great company, all organic and grass-fed, that has focused on fostering small farms,” Turner said. “But as they’ve grown they’ve had to think about logistics and the economy and have moved away from working with small farmers to larger ones. Instead of spending the time and money and driving hundreds of miles to stop at 20 farms for a little milk at each, they can make three stops at larger farms to get their milk.”

With 16 actively producing cows, Turner could no longer compete for Maple Hill Creamery’s business.

After contacting the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Turner spent four months making repairs and upgrades, changing his milking setup and

Raw milk must be sold within 24 hours of bottling, and has a shelf life of two weeks.

developing an appropriate sanitizing system.

“There are certain aspects of milking they don’t worry about as much when the milk is going to be pasteurized,” Turner explained. “But with raw milk, they are much stricter and more careful with inspections, and for good reason.”

On its website, the Centers for Disease Control warns consumers about the possibility of bacteria and viruses in raw milk, which could cause illness. It also notes that good hygiene practices during milking reduce that potential.

Many people believe raw milk is a healthier choice since the process of pasteurization, which heats the milk to eliminate bacteria, may damage some of the nutrients as well. Pasteurization also changes the taste.

“Raw milk has a lot of flavor and cream to it,” Turner said. “It’s how milk is supposed to taste.”

Turner has implemented a strict procedure for milking to ensure the safety of his product.

After rounding up his herd from the pasture, and loading them into milking stations, he walks down the line and wipes off each cow’s udders. Next he uses a “strip cup” to gather a small amount of milk from each teat by hand. This step both allows Turner to monitor the health of each cow’s udders by visually assessing the color and consistency of the milk, and it washes out the teat in case any bacteria has found its way in, he explained. Each teat is then dipped into a sanitizing solution and hooked up to the milking apparatus.

Above, Ben Turner hooks up one of his 24 cows to the milking machine.

Going through that process for all of his actively producing cows takes about two and a half to three hours each day, Turner said. Those are hours he thoroughly enjoys.

“Working with cows is relaxing,” he said, as he worked his way down the milking line with calm and gentle purpose.

He knows each cow by name or number, her temperament, her preferences and her quirks. As he deftly moves about and talks to his herd, it’s hard to believe Turner has been a dairy farmer for only two years.

After a childhood in rural western New York, Turner moved to Colorado where he earned a degree in exercise science, met his wife, started a family and “had a regular job” for 18 years. After completing an apprenticeship on a dairy farm in the Boulder area, Turner decided he wanted to get into the milking business. He was acquainted with the beauty of Central New York thanks to a grandfather in Clinton, whom he visited as a child.

“It’s beautiful here with the hills and terrain and it seemed like the right place for a dairy farm,” Turner said.

So he, his wife, their three boys and one more on the way bought a farm on Elizabethtown Road south of Ilion in September 2017 and dove in.

“I’ve had some good mentors and there’s been a lot of trial and error,” Turner said.

One fellow farmer whose help has been invaluable when it came to switching to raw milk production is Jordan Winter, of Winters Farm in Sauquoit, who recently stopped producing raw milk to focus on organic, grass-fed beef.

“He gave me a ton of advice, he let me borrow equipment to get started and has hooked me up with his raw milk customers,” Turner said.

Turner sells his milk from his farm at 1057 Elizabethtown Rd. for $5 per half gallon.

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